Opposition to same-sex marriage, Kennedy writes, “Long has been held-and continues to be held-in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.”
Kennedy wrote these words at the beginning of an opinion that handed an historic loss to social conservatives, so it was easy to dismiss it as a throwaway line – some hortatory language intended to ease the pain of individuals Kennedy was about to kick in the gut. Kennedy made a profound statement of his core beliefs when he labeled marriage equality’s opponents reasonable and sincere people of good faith. Now Kennedy appears ready to punish LGBTQ people across the nation because a single state official in Colorado does not share his opinion of what is reasonable. Like Commissioner Rice, the Supreme Court used to understand that people “Use their religion to hurt others.” And when religion is used to justify invidious discrimination, it used to view that practice as “Despicable.”
This charitable reading of Rice’s statement only makes sense if you view people who engage in discrimination as bad people – or, at least, if you view discrimination as a bad act.
But if you view discrimination against gay customers as a morally neutral act, and believe that people like Jack Phillips are “Reasonable and sincere people” who hold their discriminatory views in “Good faith” – as Kennedy appears to – then Commissioner Rice’s statement takes on a much darker cast.
But Kennedy’s moral judgement of Phillips also carries a broader warning – that he may be sympathetic to the cultural resentments that helped drive the election of Donald Trump – resentments stemming from a belief that people with traditional views are increasingly dismissed as immoral.